Christmas reflections on the circle of life

I often say I have the best job in the world, and not because of the daily dose of puppies and kittens. Living and working in a small historic village as “the other family doctor” enables me to form deep bonds and build lasting relationships with members of my community. On a daily basis, I am honored and humbled to practice veterinary medicine in the town of East New Market.

Although I’ve practiced medicine on the Eastern Shore for well over 20 years, I have been in my own practice here in East New Market now for 12 years. That’s 12 years of developing life long and meaningful relationships with people and their pets. This is one of the reasons I was compelled to open the practice. At this point in time, and in some instances, the senescent and long lived patient that arrives was once a playful, active and frisky youngster, and so therefore I am not only forging lifelong bonds, I am witnessing the amazing circle of life. Sometimes this leads to the days when it’s not the best job in the world.

Beatrice was 19 pounds when I saw her for that first puppy visit back in June of 2006, she was 10 weeks old and the most beautiful black lab puppy you can imagine. She was of English descent, with the more stocky build, boxy face and short tail. But this wasn’t the first time I met Bea. You see I had delivered Beatrice, along with her four sisters and two brothers back in March. What was supposed to be a joyous day turned into tragedy when the mother dog Sally died suddenly after whelping. Thanks to a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel wet nurse, all seven puppies thrived and found wonderful forever homes. Beatrice was no exception.

Rewind to the early 1990s, when as a recently minted veterinary graduate and a new resident of Dorchester County, I was trying to find my way. The difficulties facing a young woman with a ton of newly-acquired scientific knowledge in an unfamiliar place were far reaching. Aside from my mentors at the new job, there were a few people who went out of their way to make me feel welcome. One was a kind hearted southern woman with a good many cats and a big dog named Cabot. Mrs. C. always went out of her way to make me feel worthy, welcomed and appreciated as a new Dr. I have never forgotten that. When I left that first job, I was certain that I had left all of those newly-formed relationships behind. Then I moved to East New Market, and in a case of sweet serendipity, the first person I met after I moved was Mrs. C.! We were now neighbors! And naturally after the practice opened, and I became the neighborhood dog and cat doctor, Cabot became my patient.

Cabot was a Chesadore, half Labrador Retriever and half Chesapeake Bay Retriever and named after John Cabot, the great 15th century explorer to happen upon the mainland of North America. She was quite a character and was well loved. In early March of 2006 Cabot died suddenly, and then two weeks later after a strange twist of fate, the doomed mother dog Sally and her litter of seven puppies arrived. Although I’m a trained scientist, I have a huge heart and constantly struggle with my moral compass – maybe, just maybe, I could help mend a few broken hearts.

It didn’t take long for that beautiful black English lab puppy named Beatrice to find a place in Mrs. C’s heart. They became inseparable, going for afternoon car rides around town and daily walks in the play yard. Sweet Beatrice delighted in welcoming guests, and demonstrated her pleasure by actively presenting teddy bears from her valued collection. It was a good ten years and then it all came crashing down this past Labor Day weekend. A simple visit to the animal hospital one evening turned into an emergency surgery for a bleeding splenic tumor. My staff did an amazing job and Beatrice made an incredible recovery from surgery as we patiently waited for the pathologist report. After a ten day recovery, Bea seemed in great spirits and felt better than ever; however the biopsy report was grim. She was given just three months to live.

I haven’t yet figured out what’s better: the element of surprise or the knowledge of what is to come. Eight weeks and two days later, my technician and I went to the home of Mrs. C. and Beatrice to help ease her pain and let her pass peacefully. This was a day that being “the other family doctor” wasn’t the best job in the world.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the good in such heartache, but with every tragedy comes triumph, and in this case it’s the ties that bind . . . the relationships that we build and form. We are all on this journey called life and at one point or another, our worlds collide. How could it be that the one person who treated me so well wound up being my neighbor and good friend? No one could have predicted that just two weeks after a beloved pet passed tragically that a beautiful orphaned puppy needed a home. Worlds collide for a reason and we’re all on this journey together. Everything is connected and is a stunning case of kismet. Acknowledge and respect those deep and lifelong relationships. Respect the people in your community and do more than is expected. Remember that we’re all a part of the amazing circle of life. This is the triumph! Peace and light to all in the upcoming year.

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